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Surrounded by lush gardens, the expansive Eggenberg Palace lies just a few kilometres outside of Graz’s city centre. In the 17th century, the castle was home to members of the most powerful Styria dynasty. Today, the castle is regarded as Austrian’s finest example of baroque architecture. The exhibits from the collection of the Universalmuseum Joanneum attract large crowds.
The history began with Prince Hans Ulrich von Eggenberg, who commissioned the construction of the palace in 1625. The prince appointed an Italian architect whose design for the palace included a symbolical representation of the universe. Today, the main floor is used for exhibits but the other 24 state rooms on the first floor have remained untouched. The Planetary Room is the most impressive. Court painter Hans Adam Weissenkircher adorned the ceiling with several enormous panels. He literally praised the Eggenberg family to high heaven, including many references to astrology, numerology and mythology.
The fact that Eggenberg Palace is a UNESCO World Heritage site is mostly a matter of serendipity. In 1717, the last prince of Eggenberg died of appendicitis at a young age and the wealthy family quickly lost its fortune. Over time, the palace fell into disrepair and only the ceiling paintings and the baroque stucco were preserved. The palace was practically abandoned throughout the 19th century and the focus was mostly on the gardens.
For a full century, the state rooms on the first floor stood empty, unlit and unheated. The installation of electricity in the 20th century turned out to be an expensive endeavour. This was actually a stroke of luck and the palace’s saving grace. If the building had been heated, the paintings would have been lost because of the temperature difference between the warm ceiling and the cold attic above. Although the darkness and cold are not ideal for visitors, it creates the perfect climate to preserve the artwork. The state rooms are closed for visitation in winter.
The park that surrounds the palace is almost like a tableau vivant, set to a soundtrack of screaming peacocks. In the 19th century, Count Johann Hieronymus von Herberstein and his wife Marie Henriette replaced the formal baroque landscaping with lush English gardens that were in fashion at the time. Throughout most of the 20th century the park had fallen into disuse, but since the 1990s the gardens are gradually being restored. The rose mound, the garden’s largest attraction, was re-inaugurated in 2008. Every year in June, thousands of rosebuds burst into bloom.